Patrick Sawyer with one of his three daughters (KSTP-TV)
A former Minnesota resident infected with the Ebola virus who traveled from Liberia to Nigeria before he died from the disease had planned to visit family back in the United States next month.
Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old father of three, sparked a global health scare when it was discovered that he had transported the virus across borders in Africa, and news of his plans to travel back to the Minnesota town where his wife and children still live ratcheted up fears that the virus could spread to North America.
“Patrick could’ve easily come home with Ebola,” Decontee Sawyer, his wife, told KSTP-TV. She lives in Coon Rapids, Minn., with the couple’s three daughters. “Easy. Easy. It’s close; it’s at our front door. It knocked down my front door.”
Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian national who moved from Minnesota to Liberia to work for the country’s ministry of finance, collapsed in an airport in Lagos last week after showing symptoms of the disease. He died Friday in what health officials determined to be the first probable case of the Ebola virus in Nigeria.
Sawyer’s death has rocked the West African community in Minnesota, home to the largest Liberian immigrant population in the United States.
“Everyone knows Patrick,” Decontee Sawyer told KARE-TV. “It’s hit everyone’s front door, and they feel like they’ve lost a best friend and brother, and they are awake now.”
Decontee said Patrick had been caring for his sister, who had fallen ill with what later turned out to be Ebola.
There have been 1,201 reported cases and 672 deaths from the virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the recent Ebola outbreak began in March, according to the World Health Organization.
According to Decontee Sawyer, her husband was scheduled to travel to Minnesota in mid-August for two of his daughters’ birthdays.
Minnesota health officials met with community members Monday. Coon Rapids is home to a large West African community, and officials have warned residents to be on extra alert since Sawyer’s death. A memorial service for Sawyer is scheduled on Sept. 14 in Coon Rapids.
“This can’t happen anymore,” Decontee Sawyer told KSTP-TV. “I don’t want any more families going through what I’m going through. So I pray, and then I’m ready to fight.”
The 34-year-old widow says she is working to raise awareness about the dangers of an Ebola outbreak in the United States.
“Patrick was coming here. What if he still wasn’t displaying symptoms yet and came?” Sawyer told the Pioneer Press. “He could have brought Ebola here. Someone else could bring Ebola here.
“I don’t want all of this to be for nothing,” she said. “I have three girls who will never get to know their father.”